Fear, hunger, de­spair grip­ping Ye­men

Saudi-led airstrikes cre­ate a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the di­vided, im­pov­er­ished na­tion.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Zaid al-Alayaa and Alexan­dra Zavis

SANA, Ye­men — Mo­hammed Shaalan was look­ing for work in the agri­cul­tural fields on the out­skirts of Ye­men’s cap­i­tal this week when war­planes with a Saudi-led coali­tion started pound­ing a nearby re­bel­held mil­i­tary base.

He raced home to find that the roof of his mud and stone house had col­lapsed. Neigh­bors helped him claw through the rub­ble, pulling a blood­ied in­fant son to safety. But his wife, mother and two other boys were dead.

Shaalan, 42, cursed Saudi Ara­bia and lead­ers of all po­lit­i­cal stripes in Ye­men who he said have dragged the Arab world’s poor­est coun­try into an­other ru­inous con­flict.

“We were al­ready ek­ing out a living be­fore this war,” said Shaalan, a con­struc­tion worker by trade. “Now I have noth­ing. I am try­ing to be pa­tient and keep faith, but if the rest of my fam­ily is starv­ing I would kill to get them food.”

In­ter­na­tional aid agen­cies warned this week of an un­fold­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter in Ye­men, where Shi­ite Mus­lim rebels known as Houthis have taken over much of the coun­try and driven Pres­i­dent Abdu Rabu Man­sour Hadi into ex­ile.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion said Wed­nes­day that more than 640 peo­ple have been killed and 2,200 in­jured since March 19, a week be­fore a coali­tion of mostly Arab coun­tries be­gan an air cam­paign against the Houthis and al­lies in the mil­i­tary still loyal to Hadi’s pre­de­ces­sor, Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh, who was de­posed in 2012. More than 100,000 peo­ple have fled their homes.

Fam­i­lies caught in the fight­ing can’t ven­ture out­side to look for food and med­i­cal care, said Marie

Claire Feghali, spokes­woman for the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee for the Red Cross in Ye­men. Hos­pi­tals are over­whelmed with ca­su­al­ties and run­ning out of sup­plies. Some doc­tors haven’t been able to go home in days. Mar­kets are closed, and there are short­ages of fuel, wa­ter and power.

An air and naval block­ade im­posed by the Saudiled coali­tion to pre­vent sup­plies from reach­ing the in­sur­gents has de­layed the ar­rival of des­per­ately needed aid and sur­gi­cal per­son­nel. A boat car­ry­ing med­i­cal sup­plies docked Wed­nes­day in the south­ern port city of Aden, the first in two weeks of airstrikes, said the in­ter­na­tional aid agency Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders.

A five-per­son sur­gi­cal team also ar­rived in Aden aboard a cargo ship sent by the Red Cross. But the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been un­able to find a cargo plane ser­vice will­ing to fly ad­di­tional sup­plies in, Feghali said.

Her or­ga­ni­za­tion has called for a “hu­man­i­tar­ian pause” in the hos­til­i­ties last­ing at least 24 hours, a plea echoed by Rus­sia at the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. How­ever, Saudi Ara­bia and its Persian Gulf al­lies worry that the Houthis would use any halt in the airstrikes to take con­trol of Aden, where Hadi sought refuge be­fore flee­ing the coun­try late last month.

In Riyadh, the Saudi cap­i­tal, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said the coali­tion was col­lab­o­rat­ing with in­ter­na­tional agen­cies that want to send aid to Ye­men, but fight­ing near Aden meant that “get­ting the trans­ported aid to res­i­dents … at the mo­ment is un­suit­able.”

Aden has been the fo­cus of fierce clashes be­tween the Houthis and forces loyal to Hadi, who main­tains broad sup­port within the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Fight­ing has been so in­tense in some ar­eas that am­bu­lances have been un­able to reach the in­jured and bod­ies are left in the streets. Two paramedics and a driver with the Ye­men Red Cres­cent So­ci­ety were killed last week when their am­bu­lances were hit by gun­fire in Aden and else­where in south­ern Ye­men, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion said.

“The sit­u­a­tion is very ex­treme now,” said Feghali. “It’s hard to imag­ine it get­ting worse than this.”

Over half of the coun­try’s more than 20 gov­er­norates are af­fected by the vi­o­lence.

In the cap­i­tal, Sana, neigh­bor­hoods have emp­tied be­cause they are close to mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions that are be­ing tar­geted in the airstrikes. Their res­i­dents are pil­ing in with rel­a­tives who live out­side the city.

Food prices have dou­bled since the fight­ing es­ca­lated three weeks ago, and sta­ples such as flour are dis­ap­pear­ing from shop shelves.

Fights break out at gas sta­tions, where driv­ers can wait more than 12 hours for fuel. At least two peo­ple have been killed in gun­fights when anger boiled over.

At the city’s three main hos­pi­tals, pa­tients lie on beds in the hall­ways wait­ing for the har­ried staff to at­tend to them. Emer­gency room sup­plies are run­ning low, and it is no longer pos­si­ble to send pa­tients out of the coun­try for treat­ment.

“The health ser­vices be­fore this war were not sat­is­fac­tory at all, and now this se­vere war … is destroying what was left,” said Dr. Khad­her Nasser, who heads the Health Min­istry of­fice in Aden.

Schools, banks and other in­sti­tu­tions are closed in many ar­eas, and gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees haven’t been able to col­lect their monthly wages.

In Ye­men’s north­west, near the Saudi fron­tier, Mo­hammed Kibsi vis­ited rel­a­tives Tues­day, hop­ing to bor­row money to feed his chil­dren. But his kin hadn’t eaten a meal in 36 hours.

Dozens of peo­ple were re­ported killed last week as they shel­tered in a camp near Kibsi’s vil­lage, and he ag­o­nizes over how to shield his seven chil­dren from the same fate.

“There are no [bomb] shel­ters, nei­ther in Sana nor in any town or vil­lage across the coun­try,” said Kibsi, 49. “We have noth­ing to pro­tect our chil­dren. This might force most peo­ple to join the army or the Houthi mili­tias, so as to de­fend them­selves and their kids.”

Night af­ter night, fam­i­lies are shaken from their sleep by the ter­ri­fy­ing sounds of Saudi-led bom­bard­ments and an­ti­air­craft gun­fire.

In Sana, Mona Shami’s nieces and neph­ews wake up in tears. Her mother tries to soothe them by say­ing the gun­fire is part of wed­ding cel­e­bra­tions, but the chil­dren don’t be­lieve her.

“We try to kill our fear by gath­er­ing all in one room and talk­ing about any­thing,” said Shami, a 28year-old public re­la­tions spe­cial­ist who was tak­ing ad­van­tage of a cafe’s gen­er­a­tor and Wi-Fi to check her email.

“I still have hope in God that we are go­ing to sur­vive,” she said. “But even if this war is over, Ye­men is no longer an ac­cept­able place to live. I will do any­thing to leave the coun­try, even if I have to sell my­self to the devil.”

As an­ti­air­craft fire sounded in the dis­tance, Shami’s cell­phone rang. It was her mother call­ing to plead with her to come home.

‘There are no [bomb] shel­ters, nei­ther in Sana nor in any town or vil­lage.... We have noth­ing to pro­tect our chil­dren.’

— Mo­hammed Kibsi,

fa­ther of seven

Yahya Arhab Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

A SANA street af­ter an airstrike. En­tire neigh­bor­hoods in Ye­men’s cap­i­tal have emp­tied be­cause they are close to mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions that are be­ing tar­geted.

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